SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert announced most of Utah will transition to the yellow, low-risk level for COVID-19 starting Saturday. The details came during a press conference at the state capitol Thursday afternoon.
Herbert said the decision was made as officials continued to monitor the daily number of virus cases. The reports showed the state has flattened the curve but some parts of the state still remain high.
“The trend is good,” explained Herbert. “We’ve plateaued, and we certainly have had the opportunity to open up more parts of the economy and ramp up testing. The fact that we are over 160,000 people tested and rising is a good fact. It helps us understand where the virus is at, where it is located, and helps us be more selective in how we approach it.”
The transition to low-risk will occur for most of the state except for three counties and two metropolitan areas. Grand, Summit and Wasatch counties, along with Salt Lake City and West Valley City, will remain in the orange, moderate-risk level. No timetable was given on when they might be able to transition.
Herbert outlined the new regulations. Public classrooms will remain closed through the rest of the school year since there is only a couple weeks left. Older citizens and those with underlying health conditions should also still consider it a high-risk situation.
“We’re encouraged to still practice excellent hygiene, social distancing and wear masks. I would hope that the use of masks becomes something that we all want to do to help prevent the spread. We find by studies that if we wear masks, the chances of us catching or spreading the coronavirus drops dramatically. If we have no mask, we have about a 50 percent chance of catching it.”
As part of the low-risk regulations, groups of 50 or less can gather while still maintaining social distancing. Team sports can resume if symptom checks are performed before practices or games. Stay home recommendations are lifted and travel throughout the state is approved. Also, public pools can reopen as long as swimmers maintain six feet distances while out of the water.
Herbert said the decision to move the dial incrementally is based on the states transmission rates, hospital capacity, testing and contact tracing, and watching for hotspots. The phased approach, in consultation with local officials, will hopefully prevent a surge in the number of cases.
“So, we’re prepared. We would hope that if we handle this right, we won’t have a surge and it will be more stable if anything, and not have a surge. If it happens though we are prepared.”
Thursday’s press conference was held after the Utah Department of Health confirmed 129 new virus cases, a 1.9 percent growth increase. The numbers showed a total of 6,749 cases within the state, resulting in 558 hospitalizations throughout the outbreak. It is also estimated that 3,566 patients have recovered. No deaths were reported, maintaining the total number of fatalities to 75.
The Bear River Health Department reported one new virus case in Box Elder County. The patient was between the ages of 18-60 and is not currently being hospitalized. The new case increases the total, cumulative number in northern Utah to 84. There are 60 in Cache County, 24 in Box Elder County and none in Rich County.
Herbert concluded Thursday’s press conference expressing optimism and hope. He said the future of moving to a green, no-risk level will depend upon Utahns continuing to follow the regulations.
“The individual responsibility is at the forefront. Will you wear a mask when you go grocery shopping or not? Are you going to practice social distancing? Will you sanitize your hands? Will employers make sure they have a safe environment for their employees? They ought to be screened. Check their temperature. Make sure there is again a safe workplace for the employee to come to work. Also for the customers that come, is there going to be a safe environment for them?”
The Idaho Department of Health continues to report no positive cases of the virus in Franklin, Bear Lake or Oneida counties. There have been a total of 2,324 cases reported and 69 deaths in Idaho.